Over a decade ago, my wife and I said goodbye to our family, our nine-to-five routine, and all our possessions that couldn’t fit inside a 400 square-foot crate, and we moved to a little village in West Africa. The overwhelming influx of unfamiliar sensations in our new land rushed at us.
The feel of the desert heat on our skin, the sight of camels on the road, the smell of butchered meat in the market, and the sound of languages we’d never heard made the transition traumatic at times. However, as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, the new normal began to set in, and we found ourselves more and more comfortable in such a foreign context.
And then we had our first child.
The normal anxieties that all first-time parents feel seemed amplified in this context without electricity, Walmart, or Mother’s Day Out programs. We slowly adjusted to yet another new normal as we raised our daughter in a culture that was so different from the one my wife and I had known as children. But that’s when it hit us: the very context that was so foreign to us would, in fact, be the norm for our daughter.
I’ve often praised God for the joy of raising kids overseas. I love looking at the world through their eyes and their perspectives.
As the Lord has blessed us with three more children over the years, I’ve often praised God for the joy of raising kids overseas. I love looking at the world through their eyes and their perspectives. Many people often ask us about the hardships of raising kids in the developing world. There definitely are challenges, but there are also some amazing perks to raising kids in West Africa.
Our Children are Learning to be Grateful
Every time we leave our house, we come face to face with overwhelming poverty. The proverbial threat, “there are starving kids in Africa” is not an abstract statement here. When our kids begin to complain about silly things, we usually take a quick trip to the market for a dose of perspective and find boys scouring the dirt for peanuts the vendor might have dropped.
Our kids have no false assumptions that simple things like food, clean water, and shelter can be taken for granted. They hear us pray for God to provide food for our friends to eat. They see the sheer joy on people’s faces when they’re given access to clean water. They watch us weep as children die from treatable diseases day after day. Living in this context is teaching our children to find joy and contentment in the small things, be grateful for what they have, and share generously with all.
Our Children See That This World is not a Benign Place
Our kids see tanks and soldiers almost every day. Living in this context has taught them there is real evil in the world. They know there are bad guys, and they know soldiers are here to protect us.
I am grateful that our kids know the dangers of this world but also trust the One who made it.
We visited Baltimore a few years ago during the time of the riots. It was unnerving walking through downtown with riot police and tanks blockading roads and patrolling the streets. Yet, as I was feeling a bit anxious, I looked down at my kids, who were walking around with big grins, marveling at the sights and sounds of downtown Baltimore, seemingly oblivious to what I was seeing. But they aren’t oblivious. They have no illusions that this broken world full of thorns is innocent and benign. I am grateful that our kids know the dangers of this world but also trust the One who made it.
Our Children See the Urgency of the Gospel
One of the first sounds our kids hear each morning is the call to prayer ringing out from a half dozen minarets in our neighborhood. From these sounds to the hijabs on the heads around them, our children are daily reminded that the vast majority of people they see do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
I realized the affect our life overseas was having on my kids when, during our time in the States, they prayed for opportunities to talk to people about Christ every time we went to Walmart.
My wife and I grew up in the Bible Belt, where there was an assumption that even though not everyone believed, everyone had at least heard the good news. Our kids, though, see that if we don’t share the hope we have with everyone we encounter in the village or in the market, then those people very well may never hear it. I realized the affect our life overseas was having on my kids when, during our time in the States, they prayed for opportunities to talk to people about Christ every time we went to Walmart. They are learning that every day is an opportunity to share the hope we have in Christ with those who have never heard.
Our Children Expect to See Gospel Fruit
On a fairly regular basis, people around us who had previously sought to be made right by their good works find a confidence and assurance of their newfound righteousness in Christ. Our kids are growing up seeing new birth as normal.
They see the incredible power of the gospel firsthand as tribes who were former enemies now gather together to worship God. They see people from the slave class and people from the royal class—who have been divided for centuries—come together and serve one another and build their new lives around a common confession and a common Word.
Our Children See the Simplicity of Church
Our children do not associate church with programs or stages or even buildings. They know church can happen under a mango tree. For them, church is more about the people than the place. Church is about breaking bread with our fellow new creations, challenging one another with God’s Word, praying for one another, worshiping together, and then committing to carry this same gospel that saved us to those who have yet to hear.
Raising children in Africa has some obvious challenges, but those mostly stem from a lack of certain conveniences. However, the joy we’ve experienced as parents raising children in this context far outweighs any minor inconveniences. We are grateful for this gift of raising our children here.
Mark and his wife Parker have spent the past eleven years in West Africa carrying the name of Jesus to places it’s never been and to people who’ve never heard it. God, in his kindness and grace, has brought alongside them four amazing children to join in this adventure.